In his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Kashmir’s problems can be solved only by embracing the people of Kashmir, not with bullets or abuses (Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagane se)”. The strategy of resolving the Kashmir imbroglio has changed.
In his speech on August 8, PM Modi justified his government’s action on the abrogation of Article 370 by saying that the provision had outlived its utility. Major stakeholders in Kashmir were, however, not consulted before the government announced its move. Many important leaders were put under house arrest.
The communication system in Kashmir has been blocked and restrictions have been placed under Section 144. It is, therefore, difficult to gauge the extent to which the government’s unilateral decision has hurt the sentiments of Kashmiris. But the lockdown in the Valley is unprecedented. After having blocked all telephone lines, the PM delivered a statesman-like discourse, one which sounded as a message of hope and harbinger of development. Its impact hasn’t been assessed. But was anyone in the Valley listening to the PM?
Under Article 370, the Centre’s legislative power was confined to three subjects — defence, external affairs and communications. And, the assembly of the erstwhile state had the power to decide which Central laws would apply to Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35A, also revoked, gave Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature the power to designate permanent residents and grant them special rights and privileges, including the right to own property. With the abrogation of special status, people of Kashmir would have rights enjoyed by the rest of the country, the PM said.
In 2010-11, then chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah and the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed told us that they were the most powerful CMs in the country because Article 370 gave them powers to execute development plans. In contrast, the PM dwelt at length on what he called the “discriminatory nature of these provisions” — a part of the compact with the Indian Union and Kashmir during the time of its accession. Necessary legislative changes have been made from time to time through democratic consultations.
In spite of perpetual turmoil, J&K’s human development indicators compare favourably with other advanced Indian states. The trouble, however, is that confidence building measures were never implemented effectively. For instance, the Line of Control (LoC) trade, which offers opportunities to Kashmiris to promote business and employment, has been frequently disrupted by the Centre. Likewise, the PM’s Special Scholarship Scheme for J&K students, of which a mention was made in the speech, has never been implemented in letter and spirit. Money was rarely disbursed on time to students and institutions. Therefore, the PM’s criticism that Article 370 is a major source of misgovernance, including militancy, is unacceptable. He listed a number of welfare measures that could not be implemented due to Article 370. But it was the Centre, which did not do enough to effectively implement the BJP-PDP Agenda of Alliance. For instance, there was no headway in the rehabilitation of migrant Kashmiri Pandits, an important part of the agenda.
PM Modi made repeated reference to dynastic politics and said that leadership opportunities to the youth have been denied. He assured people in Kashmir of free and fair elections. The PM, however, did not explain as to why the state assembly elections were not conducted along with the recent parliamentary elections.
In fact, the government seemed to have made up its mind to abrogate Kashmir’s special status and split it into two UTs. When PDP-NC decided to form the government, the assembly was dissolved on the pretext of failed communication.
The PM said that products of the state should be taken to the world but he was silent on why Srinagar could not have an international airport to facilitate exports. At the time of peak tourism when the Amarnath Yatra was on, visitors were told that the government apprehended terror attacks. This deprived many workers of their wages and livelihoods. The government knew what was going on, but the people were misled.
The PM commended the role of panchayats in delivering services to people. Unfortunately, the three-tier system for effective functioning of panchayats was never constituted, even when the BJP was a partner in governance or when Jammu and Kashmir was under governor’s rule. Elections at the block level have not been conducted. These omissions have nothing to do with the much-maligned Article 370.
While the PM has rightly said that J&K is an integral part of India, care should have been taken of international agreements, particularly the issues discussed with Pakistan from time to time. Under the Simla Agreement, India and Pakistan have agreed, inter alia, “Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisations, assistance or encroachment of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations”. The unilateral abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two UTs is tantamount to violation of the above provision.
The PM has made repeated commitments to follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s principle of resolving Kashmir dispute within the realm of ‘Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat’. But the government has not bothered to follow this principle.
Abrogation of Article 370 and 35A could help the BJP in the upcoming state elections, divert attention from the sliding economy and cover up the failed attempts to contain militancy in J&K. But will these moves bring peace to Kashmir?
The writer is a former UGC member, CIC and interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir